Sunday, January 31, 2016

Biman says

The Federation Party in Fiji are considering the future of their presence in Parliament because they feel they have not been listened to at all.  Here's what their leader says -  from the Fiji Times Saturday:

Is our democracy really working?

Dr Biman Prasad
Saturday, January 30, 2016
The exuberant mood among the people after the 2014 election is fast fading. The realities of the high cost of living, low wages and deteriorating health and education services have not gone away. This is because of a dysfunctional political system born of a deeply flawed and imposed Constitution, and economic policies designed to boost the Government's image, not Fiji's long-term economic future.
The FijiFirst Government has been big on announcements, but poor on implementation. Many of their publicity stunts are carefully crafted by government-hired and publicly-funded public relations firms like Qorvis, with the help of pliant media bodies like the Fiji Sun, a grateful beneficiary of exclusive government advertising contracts. But what good is this for the rest of us?
political environment
Serious questions continue to be raised about the independence of Parliament, state institutions and the civil service.
The highest bi-partisan political institutions are parliamentary standing committees. In these, the people's representatives — from the Government and the Opposition — listen to the views of everybody on important legislation. Then they issue their reports making their recommendations. In most "true democracies", the Government listens and responds meaningfully to these findings. Not in Fiji.
One such instance is the Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights. Last year this Committee discussed the amendments to the Employment Relations Promulgations (ERP) Bill. We agreed unanimously — Government and Opposition members together — to recommend changes which complied with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.
But before these changes could be presented to Parliament, the Bill was changed overnight, without the knowledge of the Opposition members. The committee process, therefore, was just about window-dressing. A bipartisan committee had carefully considered how to achieve the best laws; the Government just went ahead and did what it wanted.
In a similar way, the Standing Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs considered and issued a report that Fiji should unconditionally implement the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT). The Government did not go back to the committee. Instead it moved a motion in Parliament to reject the Standing Committee's report. So the Government members of the committee were forced to vote in Parliament against their own report!
Recently, the Attorney-General interfered in the work of the Standing Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs by asking the Government-appointed chair of the committee to stop deliberating on allegations of torture made by lawyer Aman Ravindra-Singh. The attorney-general said in his view this was not the work of the committee. But his view should not guide the work of a bipartisan committee. He has an obvious interest in these allegations not being heard because they do not reflect well on his Government. But Parliament — an independent institution — has no budget for independent lawyers to advise it.
The draconian Media Decree remains in force. State radio and television media organisations and the pro-government newspaper (which is rewarded by exclusive government advertising contracts), continue to deny the opposition any voice. They openly parrot government propaganda. Media organisations operate under the threat of their editors being hauled before the Media Tribunal and subjected to huge fines and other punishments. The lack of access to a free and independent media has been the single most frustrating obstacle for the opposition parties when they try to make the Government publicly accountable on various national issues.
The only positive thing in all this is that, as I travel around the country, I realise that the people have begun to clearly see through this façade, and the real news has begun to seep through the firewalls.
The Government continues to interfere in how parliamentary funding is allocated. The original allocation of funds by the secretary-general — who is supposed to be independent of the Government was abruptly changed in December 2014. Under the new formula the NFP, with three MPs, gets only $45,000 per annum to run its parliamentary office and conduct its parliamentary activities. The FijiFirst party, despite the fact that half of its MPs are ministers with their own taxpayer-funded civil servants, gets the same amount per MP as the Opposition parties.
In most "true democracies", the Opposition receives a minimum amount of funding to operate on — to pay for researchers, support staff and travel. This is because "true democracy" recognises the importance of a well-resourced and informed Opposition to hold the Government accountable.
Unbelievably, Opposition political parties are required to apply for permits for meetings with party members and others. This makes a mockery of democracy. Why do the people's representatives need permits to meet the people?
The Government, on the other hand, continues to use State resources to do roadshows, meetings and consultations. The Prime Minister seems to be on a permanent taxpayer-funded political campaign tour.
This sort of political dysfunction in Fiji has a direct negative impact on the accountability and transparency of government activities. Because the Government does whatever it wants and does not listen to anyone else, many of its policies and programs are poorly thought out and implemented. If they listened more to other views, the people would get better policies and services.
economic policies
In 2013, no doubt with the 2014 election in mind, the Bainimarama Government started spending on everything — tuition free education, bus fare subsidies and other social welfare programs. These would be good things if we could afford them and they were delivered well. But they are certainly not delivered well.
School textbooks might be free, but they are useless if they don't reach students on time. Unbelievably, the Government has messed up textbook delivery for the second year running. Now it has called in FICAC to "investigate" its own inefficiency.
Health services continue to stagnate and deteriorate with appalling standards of service in hospitals and health centres. The free medicine scheme, another worthwhile idea run badly, is turning into a disaster. Now FICAC has been called in to "investigate" drug shortages in hospitals.
All of this FICAC investigating might help the ministers pass on the blame to someone else, but it is doing nothing much for the people.
The Tertiary Scholarship and Loans Scheme (TELS) program continues to disenfranchise poor students and their parents by imposing debts on them which they will struggle to pay in the future. A better designed TELS and scholarship program based on means-testing would have brought about better distribution of the benefits and the burden of debt on individual households.
The Government of course is spending big on roads. That is a good thing, if this spending is run efficiently. Only a few days ago, the Prime Minister himself was reported demanding that the Fiji Roads Authority deliver results. If the Prime Minister is complaining, how confident can we be that these hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent well?
After all, these funds don't belong to the FijiFirst party. They belong to the taxpayers. We are the ones who will be repaying the loans taken out to build these roads, for many years to come.
Based on 2013 figures, each woman, man and child in Fiji had a debt burden of about $4440. A child born today automatically inherits a debt of $4440 upon birth — before they've even opened their eyes, grown their first tooth or taken their first steps. This debt figure burden rises with every passing year.
Government debt levels
Government debt stands at about $4.4 billion which is close to 50 per cent of GDP. This means that, like any household that borrows money to spend, we are becoming too deep in debt to be able to borrow any more.
The debt table (at the bottom of the facing page) shows information Government's Budget Estimates and financial data is sourced from the website of the Ministry of Finance. (Refer to table.)
These are devastating figures. Remember that Government's actual revenue figures for 2014 and 2015 will only be known next year. So the percentage of debt to actual revenue will undoubtedly increase if Government's income projections are not met (like previous years, when they have not been met).
The Government is very proud of its economic growth figures for 2013, 2014 and 2015 years. It is worth noting that this economic growth is much lower than in many Asian countries. But the real test of our economy will be how it grows when the Government stops borrowing and spending. The Government's own projections for economic growth has been revised downwards to 3.5 per cent in 2016 and about 3 per cent in 2017 and 2018.
Growing debt repayment requirements mean Government has to find new sources of income to pay interest and principal every year. In the end, this can only be paid for if taxes increase or Government spending decreases. Either way, it is the people who will bear the consequences. It is the poorest people who will bear the biggest burden if Government services decline.
In the 2016 budget, the FijiFirst Government was forced to break its election promises. In the election they promised they would keep the policy of zero VAT on basic food items. In the 2016 budget they broke that promise. Most people see little change in their household bills and the poor people only see their costs rising.
People think that the Opposition just opposes Government policies and offer no alternative. But the NFP, in its manifesto, had carefully proposed a reduction in VAT to 10 per cent, leaving VAT on basic food items at zero. We had a credible plan to reduce wasteful expenditure that would not have created much pain for our lowest-income households.
The Government recently claims that poverty has been reduced. Even if that is true, for the amount of public money it has spent, the reduction is very small. Unfortunately, the Government has kept its statistics secret for so long that it is getting harder to trust their objectivity.
It seems that the Government will only release the statistics that show good things. But, as Professor Wadan Narsey recently pointed out in an article in The Fiji Times, all the information should be available, for everybody to see, as soon as it is ready. In that way, all of us — the Government, the Opposition, NGOs and the public — can work together to achieve the best solutions.
Of course these claimed reductions in poverty are before the 2016 Budget. Now the cost of basic food items has gone up, wages are not increasing and a huge number of people remain unemployed. So it is the next set of figures that will be the real test. Will the Government delay releasing them if they aren't good?
Economic management in Fiji has become dictatorial, confused and inconsistent, mostly reflecting a complete lack of understanding of how business and markets work.
Tax and tariff policies seem to veer in different directions in every budget, depending on which favoured businesses the Government is listening to at the time. Meanwhile some businesses are being forced by the Government to do business they do not want to do.
For example, Government is forcing private pharmacies to participate in Government's free medicine scheme, even though these pharmacies cannot even recover their costs in doing so. If the Government wants services from private business it should, like the rest of us, be required to pay those businesses properly and fairly.
The culture of servility and sycophancy has become so deeply ingrained under the FijiFirst Government that some business people behave like obsequious fools. Few are prepared to criticise government policies.
Big businesses who are benefitting from bad government policies will pay the price in the long term. Their sycophancy and servility will to perpetuate a culture of bad governance, favouritism and ill-will. If the next government does not favour them, they will be the first to be demanding good governance — but it will be too late.
The economic and political deception of the FijiFirst Government is likely to cost the country and our people dearly.
First, there is the political deception that has been created that Fiji has a "true democracy" under the 2013 Constitution. The Government is forever talking about its "true democracy" — in its speeches, statements, even its advertisements. If this is "true democracy", I wonder why it has to remind us so often? Is it because perhaps people aren't convinced?
Many of Fiji's international partners, including the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), have called for a review of the 2013 Constitution. They know it does not promote genuine democracy. The separation of powers, the derogations in the Bill of Rights, the ouster clauses, and the existence of draconian decrees all render the Constitution undemocratic. More importantly, they make it unsustainable in the future.
The dubious claim that this Constitution ensures "equal citizenry" (another favourite mantra of the Government) is another deception. Just because we are now calling everyone a "Fijian" does not ensure the protection of minorities and other ethnic groups.
The reality on the ground is a stark reminder to many that there is no such thing as equal citizenry. Appointments in the civil service, government boards, and other government-controlled organisations, and selective awarding of government contracts continue to be based on patronage. Recently the Fiji Sun has reported that the Government is investigating staff members of Fijian Holdings Ltd (a private company) for "political agendas". Apparently their crime is not to support the FijiFirst political agenda!
In the Ministry of Education, some staff have been promoted 5-7 ranks upwards in a single sweep, bypassing many qualified and experienced people. Similar cases have been highlighted in the Health Ministry.
This is a result of the lost independence of State institutions responsible for these appointments. The provision in the Constitution that all appointments below permanent secretary level will be done by the respective permanent secretaries, in consultation with the minister responsible, is a recipe for disaster. Ministers will demand senior positions for their cronies and yes-men.
Already we see ministers deciding which people are recruited, promoted and sacked at their whim. The current reform of the civil service by creating a Ministry of Civil Service and removing the Public Service Commission as an independent institution responsible for the civil service, is going to spell further disaster in the future and will be difficult to reverse.
Flawed economic policies, aimed mostly at looking good for politics, will cause much economic pain in the future. Fiji's economy has grown modestly in the past few years on the back of remittances, tourism, borrowing and tax cuts. But borrowing and tax cuts are one-time tricks. After the so-called asset sales to fund spending in 2016, what will be the next rabbit that Government will pull from its hat? That is when the economic pain will deepen, which will take a long time to reverse.
Can we get out of this rut?
It is time to change course
The time for dictatorship and arrogance is over. It is now time for dialogue, it is time for bipartisanship in Parliament, it is time to free the media, and it is time to engage meaningfully with our development partners. It is time for the people to demand better. Moreover, it is time to change course.
The NFP has always advocated dialogue as a means of resolving national issues and our political record shines proudly untarnished from this approach.
I once again call upon the Prime Minister to shed his Government's patronising and dictatorial attitude and initiate a process of sincere dialogue on key national issues such as the review of the Constitution, a process to address the grievances of the indigenous Fijian people, the repealing of draconian decrees, and a process to address the deep concerns within the sugar industry.
Telling Opposition leaders to "jump in a deep pool", telling gay people to shift to Iceland and shackling the nation with debilitating debt is not much of a political legacy.
True nationhood, common and equal citizenry can only be achieved if we work together. Reciprocity, humanity and national interest should be our guiding values if we are to succeed at bipartisanship, and not arrogance and condescension.
We continue to offer our hands for bipartisanship. It is now up to the Government to reciprocate with sincerity and respect, in the national interest.
* The views expressed are the author's and not of this newspaper.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Thank you for the condolences

Thank You  from the Ratawa  family



Many family members and friends have kindly given us cards, emails, messages on facebook, food, money, whale’s teeth, mats, kava, made phone calls, or visited us in sharing our grief on the passing of our beloved Rev Peceli Ratawa on 27th December 2015. Thank you to the East Geelong church for just being there. Vina’a va’alevu.



And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied:“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.” Minnie Haskins

Read Eulogy at

  photo taken at Vorovoro Island when the tribewanted eco-tourism was in operation.

Isa, Padma is treated so unfairly

I missed this article in December but I think it's important not to be silent as so many people have been about the unfair treatment by the Fiji Government towards Padma.MONDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2015

by Professor Wadan Narsey

I have previously refrained from writing about the Bainimarama Government’s banning from Fiji of Dr Padma Lal (wife of Professor Brij Lal) from Fiji, because she is my sister and it would be perceived as a “conflict of interest”.

But more and more, senior executives in government and public enterprises suddenly resign, allegedly “for personal reasons” which often means, given that they are at the height of their experience and ability, that they were being pushed out.

Or they are just brutally given their marching orders, resisted with futility sometimes, just as some executives at a major media company were, and to rub salt into the wound, their marching orders are often given by expatriates of dubious merit, appointed to high positions by the Bainimarama Government.

If they are lucky, they are put out to pasture in sinecure appointments here and there or in embassies overseas.

Prominent newspaper publishers have been deported for doing their jobs professionally and ethically.

You can draw up your own list of such persons.

What is shocking however, is that there has been no public outcry at possibly unfair terminations of contracts.
Dr Padma Lal and Professor Brij Lal

It might be too much to expect individuals to protest publicly. They may feel too exposed (it is hard enough for them to criticize the government privately to me, as they look over their shoulders to check who might hear).

But one does expect organizations associated with the “dis-employed” person to publicly register their protest if there is any possibility of an unfair dismissal decision.

But that does not happen either, just as it did not when Dr Padma Lal (and Dr Brij Lal) were banned from entering Fiji.

I shall only write about the failure of institutional responses, and only with respect to Dr Padma Lal, about whom the Bainimarama Government said not a word, and whose only “crime” seems to be that she is married to Brij Lal.

Who is Padma?

She is a Gujarati girl from Toorak, one of the first science graduates and indeed gold medalist from USP, who later taught at USP.

She did pioneering work in marine biology, and a pioneering PhD in environmental economics in relation to Fiji’s marine environment and the interface with commercial agriculture.

She became an expert in the sugar industry, with her book Ganna (“sugar cane” in Hindi) bringing together a collection of articles analyzing most problem areas in the sugar cane and milling industries, including detailed analysis of the productivity (or rather the lack of it) in the cane farms and sugar mills.

She has worked for, and developed solid reputations with international scientific research organizations like ABARE, IUCN and CSIRO.

She was deemed good enough in 2008 to be the Chief Guest at USP’s medal awards ceremony, conducted under the current Vice-Chancellor.

She also recently applied for a professorial position at USP in her field, and was denied an appointment for unstated reasons, despite being a regional person eminently qualified for that position.

She and her husband bought a house in Suva, intending to spend more time and work in Fiji and the Pacific.

Unlike her abrasive, undiplomatic and politically incorrect older brother, she networked widely and contributed in many fields.

She served on the Gujarat Education Society Board; participated in the events of the Rajput Society (thedhobis) of which she and I are part; she was a Rotarian; and goodness knows what else she threw her abundant energy at.

She was an ideal peaceful decent law-abiding citizen and resident of Fiji, far more than the myriads of foreigners who have been welcomed in Fiji by the Bainimarama Government.

Yet Dr Padma Lal has been banned from entering Fiji, for no other reason than that she was married to Professor Brij Lal.

This academic, armed only with her laptop and spreadsheets analyzing the productivity of the sugar industry or the economic value of some marine environment, was deemed by the Minister for Home Affairs and former RFMF officer Timoci Natuva, to be dangerous for the security of Fiji.

Questions were asked in parliament, with totally unconvincing answers being given as the cause for the banning, other than that it was a “collective” decision coming from the Prime Minister’s Office, they had the “right” to make the decision, and the decision was final.

How utterly ridiculous.

There is no comparison to be made between Dr Padma Lal’s talents and contributions to Fiji, with those of the individuals who made the decision to ban her.

So why have the institutions been silent?

The quiet institutions
The management of the University of the South Pacific, of which Dr Padma Lal is undoubtedly one of the luminaries, both as a student and academic, said not a word in protest, and neither did the Staff Association.

Neither did any of the other Fiji universities utter a word of protest.

The Fiji Association of Women Graduates said not a word.

The sugar industry organizations who all stood to benefit from Padma’s work said not a word.

The IUCN, Padma’s employer, said nothing publicly.

The Fiji Women’s Rights Movement and the Women’s Crisis Centre, both led by CEOs who were both junior to Dr Padma Lal and know her extremely well, both professionally and socially, said not a word.

The Gujarat Education Society and the Rajput Society said not a word in protest.

The Hindu religious organizations (yes, Padma was a practicing Hindu) the Arya Samaj and the Sanatan Dharam said not a word, and neither did any of the Christian religious organizations.

The CCF said nothing.

The Rotary Club said nothing.

The Law Society, perhaps not concerned about what happens to foreigners even if they are distinguished former citizens making great contributions to the country of their birth, said nothing. But neither are they particularly concerned about the lack of justice for their own fellow citizens.

A massive number of former academic colleagues of Padma Lal, many of whom appear often in Fiji and in the media extolling the virtues of the Bainimarama Government, said nothing publicly. They also include a very prominent current Minister in the Bainimarama Government (Dr Mahendra Reddy) who worked closely with Padma in researching the sugar industry.

What is going on?

Not lack of ethics or morals

It would be too easy and wrong to accuse all the individuals who are heads of these organizations of personal cowardice or lack of morals and ethical principles.

I know that most (not all) of the individuals concerned are upright law-abiding moral citizens.

Should any friend or relative suffer a death in the family, they will be there to share grief, just as they gladly share the joy at births and weddings.

So how explain the institutional silence at the injustice against Dr Padma Lal, which is so blatant and clear-cut that not even the Government propaganda outlets have supported her banning.

Even a prominent academic arduously pro-Bainimarama blogger in NZ (Professor Croz Walsh) expressed dismay that the Fiji government was spurning the enormous potential contributions of Dr Padma Lal (and Professor Brij Lal) to Fiji.

How explain that collectively, the institutions they lead, have demonstrated for the last nine years, a horrible silence in the face of so many injustices to individuals in government and public enterprises.

One can only conclude that despite the election of a parliament, there continues a culture of intimidation, fear and silence, even when individuals in our society are blatantly denied their basic human rights, including the right to visit Fiji, or even the right to life.

This does not bode well for Fiji’s future.

Pastor Martin Niemöller, a victim of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, once wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Meanwhile over in Lau

Climate change is real, the rising sea is real, and it is affecting some islands in Fiji.  This is from today's Fiji Times.  Help arrived in the form of food for the people of Ogea Island in the Lau Group because a cyclone came their way recently.

Changing landscape

Mere Naleba
Saturday, January 23, 2016
While there have been many talks about climate change, villagers of Ogea Island in the Lau Group are experiencing the effects every day.
Ogea Village has a population of 129 people and many fish for daily sustenance from the comforts of their homes whenever the tide is high.
The island is also one of the eight islands visited by a government damage assessment team after Tropical Cyclone Ula.
Ogea villager Iliesa Vakarau said in most instances, it had become a norm for the elderly men and women in the village to sit by the windows of their houses along the seashore and fish.
Speaking in the iTaukei language, Mr Vakarau said it was hard trying to grow root crops on the island because the soil had been infiltrated by sea water.
Seventy-five per cent of cash crops on Ogea had been destroyed by strong winds and heavy rain from TC Ula.
Mr Vakarau said most villagers still did not understand the full effects of climate change.
He said whenever there was high tide, sea water reached the doorsteps of houses by the beachfront.
When the government team arrived on Ogea Island, villagers were happy to receive food supplies of rice, flour, sugar, tinned meat, tinned fish, oil and powdered milk.
Children were seen eating tinned meat straight out from the tin.
Eastern divisional planning officer Eliki Masa said the Commissioner Eastern's Office was aware of the situation on Ogea and was looking into the matter.

Monday, January 18, 2016

After fifty years of ordination

I found this file that Peceli wrote for a gathering of ministers remembering their ordination.  It was from 2014. The photo was taken at a National Conference of Fijian congregations of the Uniting Church - a few years back  - the three in the front have passed on - Aminiasi Qalo, Inoke Nabulivou, Peceli Ratawa. Isa, now Peceli has left us and I remember his colleagues Aminiasi and Inoke.
Fifty years since Ordination 1964 to 2014

Thank you for the invitation today to share with others who were ordained forty or fifty years ago. A question I ask is why I have survived when most of my colleagues have passed away. I am 78 which is regarded as elderly in Fiji. When we look back to the years since our Ordination we give thanks to God for the opportunities, and I am grateful for the experiences in Fiji and also in Australia and for my wife Wendy and family.
I started very young in the ministry going to a Bible School when I was sixteen and I turned 21 while I was in the theological college in Davuilevu Fiji. The old system then in the Methodist church was to have three years study and three years practical work before ordination. The Principal at that time was Rev Tippett and another teacher was Rev Cyril Germon.
A few things I learnt early in life – was that once you have been ordained you are marked for life. Also it was a time of following a leader, people who become a mentor to us. Like Rev Setareki Tuilovoni, Rev Setareki Rika. They noticed that I knew the Fiji Hindi language so that I would be able to work amongst the Fiji Indian community at some stage. I worked in a mountain village in Navosa then was sent to the Indian Division to Lautoka. My induction was not in a church but out of doors at the main Lautoka football ground to a mix of all kinds of people. Wendy and I married about that time. After working in other places our family moved to Australia and we were in Hopetoun when the Uniting Church was formed. It was unusual then to have Pacific Island ministers in Victoria. In the Mallee I learnt more about the Australian way of life and I took up golf which was a great way of meeting the men who were not always in the Sunday church and then they started coming to worship possibly to talk to me about my wins at golf.
I am grateful for the time I spent with Aboriginal people in the Mallee and was at that time involved in meeting with in Swan Hill, Robinvale and Mildura and the Berriwillock wheat scheme funded some of my travelling. One thing is about the stump jump plough. Some people are rather tough like mallee roots left in a field. Instead of crashing into them, the stump jump plough gently rides over them. I think this is how we can manage our lives so that we don’t get offended and hurt by those who reject the Christian faith.
In Geelong East our family developed – the boys at Geelong High School, their footie, their tennis and Deakin for George. Wendy was on-campus at Deakin and I was closer to Melbourne to visit the Fijian congregation at that time in Richmond. At the Ormond Rd church the congregation were brave to have me as minister for nine years. My preaching was never brilliant but I did my best. One woman often commented positively. One day I asked her – ‘Hey Doreen, how did it go today?’ She answered, ‘Fine of course, but actually I didn’t bring my hearing aids today.’ The good relationship with some of our Geelong East and St Andrews members has continued until today.
Retirement is not letting go for a minister. We wanted to remain in Geelong so bought a house at 13 Boundary Rd. I found volunteer tasks to do such as Donation in Kind, some study at Monash, some locum ministry connecting with churches, and playing golf. These days I’ve slowed down due to health matters but still go most Sundays to Altona Meadows/ Laverton Uniting Church to support a small Fijian group there. In Geelong we have a strong Fijian network with many young couples. We call our group the Fiji Geelong Friendship Club. Last week we celebrated Fiji Day for about 30 people in our back yard with traditional food such as cooked in an underground oven. And at present we have a household of twelve at weekends, so retirement is not dull. Wendy and I thank God for the long journey.
Peceli Soqovata Ratawa

October 2014.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A version of Isa Lei

This is quite a different version of Isa Lei    - instrumental and not sung - by Ry Cooder as used in the soundtrack of the movie 'Dead Man Walking'.  It's interesting because it combines Indian musical instruments. Go to

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Still talkin' about a new flag

I thought the topic had gone cold as so many groups and individuals were opposed to changing the Fiji flag, but it seems the new design is still on the agenda. The poor designs in the competition so far were unacceptable so I wonder what new designs they will come up with!  The PM said the only thing they will retain is the navy blue colour. Sobosobo, it's not navy blue, it's Pacific blue, a lighter colour than navy! Story from Fiji Times.
New flag 'inevitable'
Luke Rawalai
Sunday, January 17, 2016
FIJI should have its new flag flying high and proud by Constitution Day on September 7, says Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama. Mr Bainimarama said the flag change was inevitable, adding that his Government would go on with their plans for a new flag despite calls not to do so. Mr Bainimarama urged people on the island and around the country to actively participate in the flag designing competition that was currently progressing in the country, adding they should select the new flag design in a few weeks.
Speaking in the iTaukei language, Mr Bainimarama told members of the public in Wairiki, Taveuni that his Government had brought in a new reign. Therefore, Mr Bainimarama said, it was only fitting that they changed everything from old to new.
Reflecting on his earlier statements about the flag change, Mr Bainimarama assured every Fijian the change would carry on despite calls from different political groups and certain people not to do so. He said Fiji was on its new journey to development and freedom, adding a new flag would reflect the change and progress that his Government brought about.
Responding to calls from members of the public on the island for the retention of the coat of arms because of its symbolic status to the people of Fiji and its history, Mr Bainimarama said the only feature of the flag to be retained would be its navy blue colour. Apart from that, Mr Bainimarama said everything in the new flag would change and be replaced including the coat of arms.
Some people had also requested Mr Bainimarama to retain the depiction of the lion on the flag as it was a reminder of the country's history with the English and their contribution to the growth of the nation. According to some members of the public, the depiction also reminded the country of its ties with the Commonwealth of Nations.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Good on you Tupou

An article in today's Fiji Times concerning the Federation Party is that the Government is not listening to anyone from the Opposition Party who puts forward a good idea.

No other way
Nasik Swami
Saturday, January 16, 2016

THE three-member National Federation Party (NFP) parliamentary board has taken the issue of their continued participation in Parliament to the party's working committee to make the final decision.
The party has accused the Government's "dictatorial attitude and outright rejection of bipartisanship to advance the social and economic livelihood of our people" as the reason behind this move, which it said spelt doom for Fiji's future.

The committee, chaired by party president and MP Roko Tupou Draunidalo, sits at month-end, a week away from the commencement of the 2016 Parliament session on February 8. NFP leader and Opposition MP Professor Biman Prasad said they (with MPs Roko Tupou and Prem Singh) discussed the issue and agreed to bring it before the committee.

He said the committee would deliberate on a report from the party leader on the effectiveness of parliamentary democracy since October 2014. "Pro-people motions are defeated by Government using its numerical superiority. FijiFirst will simply oppose any motion by the Opposition, no matter how credible and logical it is. This is the sad reality," Prof Prasad said.

Their motions, which he said were defeated, included:
* maintaining zero rating on basic food items that now carries 9 per cent VAT;
* increase disaster mitigation fund from $1m to $10m;
* increase funding for cane planting program from $5m to $10m; and
* increase funding for dialysis from $300,000 to $2m.

Yet, the Government saw it fit to allocate $9m for the Fiji International Golf Tournament and $18m for Fiji Airways to promote the upcoming Singapore service; and $11.3m to Fiji Broadcasting Corporation for public service broadcasting, said Prof Biman.

With this year's parliamentary calendar ending in September there are only four one-week sittings which equates to 20 days. "On each of these days, the Opposition is allowed to ask only three questions while three are allocated to Government. And Opposition business only takes precedence on Fridays when Parliament sits for only three hours from 9.30am to 12.30pm."

Government whip Ashneel Sudhakar said Prof Biman's comments were unfortunate and that he chose to turn a blind eye to the bipartisan approach taken by the Government in various sectors. He said Government's bipartisan approach was evident in the various Parliamentary Standing Committees that had seen some laws made in the country. "His claims of 'Government's dictatorial attitude and outright rejection of bipartisanship to advance the social and economic livelihood of our people cannot be further from the truth," Mr Sudhakar said, citing Government's various policies targeted at advancing the rights of all Fijians.

Speaker of Parliament Dr Jiko Luveni said where Government had an overwhelming majority, they would always win the votes. "The only thing I can say is it is experienced worldwide where a Parliament and where a Government has an overwhelming majority, they will always win the vote and that has to be accepted by the Opposition," Dr Luveni said. "So they (Opposition) need to accept it and move forward with that in mind. That's all I can say to them. And all the other issues are political and I am not able to comment on that."

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Rev Peceli Ratawa has passed away.

With great sadness I write that my husband died last Sunday morning as the sun rose - in his bed, in his house, without drama, just quietly in his sleep. He had been ill for a while but still had a great Christmas with family a few days earlier. The funeral was held in Geelong on New Year's Eve, 49 years anniversary of our marriage in Lautoka in 1966. It's a difficult time for us but we know that he has gone to God as he was always confident in his Christian faith.

The eulogy that I wrote and delivered:
Eulogy  - Rev Peceli Soqovata Ratawa      21 July 1936 – 27 December 2015
It’s the year 1936. Labasa town was only four Indian and Chinese shops. A hospital had just been opened and many babies saved with a new drug. One was Peceli Soqovata Ratawa. There was the Fijian village of Naseakula there but one family lived independently -  Irimaia and Ulamila Ratawa and their children -  in a grass bure filled with visitors from Cikobia and Mali most of the time. The seven children went to a nearby school where the English language was strange because everyone around spoke Labasa dialect or Hindi. Bula sia!  Aap Kaise hai!  Peceli and his siblings had an enjoyable life catching fish and crabs, riding a borrowed bike, helping with chores, running to buy bread at the Chinese store. Peceli’s father died when Peceli was eight and the family divided – some to Mali Island, some to Naseakula village. Peceli to the village. By fourteen  he left school to work with a cousin as a carpenter but it’s wasn’t enough. Uncle Viliame was a pastor and talked about a new Bible school down the coast, so Peceli packed up his mat – a bit crooked as his Mum could not weave well – and caught a boat to Naduri.  At the Bible school Peceli was popular because he knew how to plant rice and use bullocks, having learnt from his Indian friends in Labasa. He was inspired by Rev Setareki Rika who sent him on to Davuilevu near Suva – a whole adventure ahead for this country teenager.

There he was mentored by two Australian missionaries, Rev Cyril Germon and Rev  Alan Tippett who was developing new courses for theological students. The students were modest youth, treating girls as sisters, working in the cassava gardens, studying and going out preaching on Sundays. Peceli was praised by Rev Setareki Tuilovoni in the youth department because he could control bullocks to plough up the fields. After graduation Peceli was sent to start a new Bible school at Nailaga for a year and apparently was popular with the Nailaga school girls there.

Next came an appointment to Naikoro way up in the mountains – no road, just riding horses to get there. He decided to get married, got the boat to Labasa to find Ateca who was from a chiefly family and they were married in Suva by Rev Niko before journeying up to the mountain village. Soon they two children, Ulamila and Ateca. Peceli was devastated when his wife died when the baby was four days old. Family came to the rescue. His sister Suliana looked after the girls in Lautoka. The Methodist Church knew Peceli spole Fiji Hindi bhaat so appointed him to be a padre to the Fiji Indian community in Lautoka.

Then I come into the scene finding this handsome young man with a huge laugh intriguing and we married on New Year’s Eve 1966, 49 years ago with about 350 guests at Jasper Williams School. So today again we are providing hospitality again to a crowd for vakatawase. Sobosobo.

Life in the Indian Division was wonderful and George and Robin were both born when we were in Rakiraki. These were wonderful years living amidst the cane-fields. Then after a year at Dilkusha we realized the family in Labasa needed Peceli’s help about land matters so we took a boat trip, even with Kanakana  our pet pig, up to live in Vatuadova, the family village 10 k out of Labasa.  This was 1971.

Living amidst cane farms and a mainly Indian community was fine but financially draining. It was important though and a learning curve for me to be with the extended Ratawa family and I enjoyed knowing my new kin – especially Evia and Suliana, and Mila and Teca and their cousins. I taught art part-time and Peceli organised several development projects – timber logging, church building, trochus shell, a modest eco-tourism spot at Nukutatava, but there were difficulties. We moved to the beach at Nukutatava where we had built three bures  and Andrew was the new baby by then. Peceli loved Nukutatava with a passion. It was idyllic especially at sunrise.

A mango plops on the wet grass,
I collect a handful to pare and slice.
Parrot mangoes coloured sunrise.
I hear Rinieta singing
as she strolls towards the spring 
where water drips like plucked strings. 
This is the day, this is the day 
that the Lord has made..
Light catches the plaits of bamboo 
as I sit on the doorstep, 
cannot speak for the sheer wonder of it
as the soft scarf of the sky
floats with seeping dyes
and Vorovoro hangs on the skyline.
The colours die into a bland talcum day:
The baby will wake in an hour.

Peceli was a good talatala, as he loved people, talking with them, leading in worship. He could spend time with ordinary people with grace and humour and he appreciated his own Fijian culture and protocol. But.... it was time to move on as I had taken the children to Australia wanting to see my family again n Swan Hill. Peceli was offered work at John Knox church as the local churches were merging, and he was confronted by the different lives of the local Aboriginal people in the Mallee. They called Peceli ‘brother’ but not me ‘sister’. My own family were good to Peceli though occasionally confused by the cultural shifts and the good appetites of our three boys.

Then he was appointed to Hopetoun where the delightful wheat farming community took us into their hearts. He learnt about the stump-jump plough and that you don’t bash into people but be gentle when you are sharing the pain of life as well as enjoying the good moments.   He sometimes looked back with nostalgia to Fiji days  yet lived  in the present moment, listened to the laments  about weather and mouse-plagues but appreciated the local church and other blessings. We both loved  the six Hopetoun years where we and our three children had many friends.  Peceli played golf, indeed he did, with a passion.

As the boys grew we were challenged to move to a city environment to East Geelong Uniting Church, a shared parish with St Andrews.  The congregation was a steady one, conservative,  yet they accepted a Pacific Islander for up to nine years. We linked up with the Fijian community in Melbourne so life was balanced, with holidays in Fiji, and our boys thrived at Geelong High School across the road from the manse. I was a bit of a shipwreck regarding housework as my energy was diverted to study art again, at Deakin University and do a couple of degrees. Yet Peceli and I were committed to the church community as well as people on the fringe of society.  We loved Geelong, never wanted to move, but time was up and we had to find new challenges such as a bit of study at Monash for Peceli, some short-term pastoral placements such as at Dandenong,  and we bought our own home at 13 Boundary Rd. George and Robin moved to Fiji to work, Andrew stayed around. Peceli and I compiled the stories of the journey and published ‘When the Spirit says move’.

Adventures continued in retirement life, but one tragedy is uppermost in our memories when our second son. Robin Iliesa Tupou, died in an accident at a Fiji  resort  where he worked. George was working at the time at NLTB.  Fiji life was in chaos because of a coup – in 2000. Our three sons married Fiji girls – Bale,  Salanieta, and Eka, all wonderful women and we delight  in our grandchildren – Talei, Epa, Jordan, Andrew and Linlay.

Do ministers retire?  I don’t think so. There’s  always  pastoral matters, some preaching and visiting – most recently at Colac, mentoring  young ministers, reaching out, inviting people  in with hospitality. Peceli never tired of wanting to meet people, and dreaming of trips to Fiji.   Now after a serious heart failure incident over five years ago, Peceli had to slow down, give up golf and some meetings such as Rotary, but he still drove his car, though sometimes jumping a kerb. 

This Christmas time has been a huge blessing with all our close family living together and spending quality time eating, singing, praying. It was wonderful.  Then on Sunday morning the spirit of Peceli was moving on. No drama. No pain. Just  in his  sleep as the daylight came. We have been blessed in our family by Peceli and give thanks to God for his inspiration to us in loving God and always telling us, even to the doctors – God is with me, here or wherever I go.           Thanks be to God.